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Community Corrections sees more clients -- and more success

Numbers are rising at Reno County Community Corrections.

Both the agency’s caseload and its success rate are up, and the two are likely related, said Director Randy Regehr.

“Our average daily population was 401 in April, which is up 25 percent since June (2015),” Regehr said. “We’re revoking fewer (people) to prison and getting in new assignments, so it’s both.”

They have added 295 cases so far this fiscal year from the Reno County courts, compared to 246 in fiscal 2015 and 241 in 2014.

The growing caseload, Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder believes, is not due to an increase in criminal cases filed, but because judges are placing more defendants, particularly in drug cases, on Community Corrections probation.

In addition, Schroeder noted – and Regehr agreed – Community Corrections is giving defendants more chances before seeking to revoke probation and send them to prison.

Regehr sees that as a positive.

Schroeder questioned whether it was endangering the public.

Stacking Up

Community Corrections is an intensive form of probation that can require weekly reporting, random urinalysis tests and other home or work visits by officers. The courts order most defendants placed in the program to be complete in 12 to 18 months, though it can extend that supervision each time a court revokes and then reinstates probation.

The average length of supervision for those who have successfully completed the program this fiscal year, Regehr said, is just over 20 months.

The average of those who have failed and gone to prison is about 11 months, 12 days.

“Even out of the successful population, of the 138 people who successfully completed it this year, 45 people or 33 percent were revoked at least once,” Regehr said. “The average person is revoked 1.5 times. Many don’t go through the program without any violations.”

When the court orders a revocation, and then reinstates probation, it often starts the clock over or adds additional supervision time, which contributes to the length of their supervision and helps edge the numbers up.

“In fiscal year 2014, we received three more assignments than were discharged,” Regehr advised the Reno County Commission last week, during a quarterly departmental update. “In fiscal 2015, 27 more were assigned than discharged. For fiscal 2016, so far, 126 more were assigned than discharged.”

The Reno County agency’s success rate of those completing probation without being revoked to prison, however, grew from 67 percent in 2014, when courts revoked 79 cases, to 72 percent in fiscal 2015, with 62 revocations.

So far, for fiscal 2016, with a month and a half to go, their success rate is 84 percent, with only 26 revoked to serve prison terms, Regehr said.

More chances

The push behind the growing success, Schroeder said, is that the Kansas Department of Corrections changed its funding a couple of years ago, basing it on success. The more revocations a Community Corrections district has, the less state money it receives.

That prompted some offices, Schroeder contended, to stop drug-testing clients. While that is not the case in Reno County, he said, the number of times a defendant can fail a drug test and not go to prison continues to climb.

“If you put a meth user in prison for a year, his brain has time to dry out and then treatment has a better chance of working,” the DA opined.

Regehr contested Schroeder’s portrayal of the situation, though he admitted they are unlikely to take a client back to court for just a drug-use violation and that defendants get more chances than in the past.

“If someone tests positive for drugs even one time, action is taken,” Regehr said. “This most likely would be a substance abuse assessment if the person isn’t already in treatment. If the person continues to use or isn’t attending treatment, we would move to a jail sanction before taking them back to court for a revocation hearing.”

“We want to send dangerous people to prison, not the drug-addicted,” he said. “Since almost all of these people are coming back to the community we would rather address their addiction and help them change their lives than send them to prison just to have them return facing the same problems.”

"Quick Dips"

After the KDOC amended funding formulas, it got lawmakers to approve “quick dip” jail and prison sanctions in July 2013.

That allowed the court to send a defendant to prison to serve 120 to 180 days, and then return to probation. It also gave Community Corrections the authority, if approved by the judge, to order a 2- or 3-day jail stay without going back to court each time or filing a revocation petition.

“It’s a really simple sanction, as far as the courts are concerned,” Regehr said of the jail dip. “The court signs a document and it’s done. The statute says we can do up to six total through someone’s supervision.”

Of the 146 people who successfully completed probation in the last year, Regehr said, 37 of them served a total 65 jail sanctions. So far, in 2016 there have been 75 jail sanctions, though he could not break down yet the success rate of those.

“Some people did multiple, a couple did as many as five or six,” Regehr said.

“I think it does have an impact,” Regehr said of the sanctioning option. “It tells an offender we’re serious about this, you need to take your problems seriously, you need to make changes and do the things you need to do.”

If the brief jail stints are not changing behavior, Regehr said, they could go back to court and seek longer jail stints of up to 60 days.

The next step after that is 120 to 180 day prison sanctions.

Mixed results

Results of prison sanctions have been more varied, with some defendants recognizing they don’t want to go to prison, while others decide they can handle prison and prefer getting a sentence over than remaining under the intense supervision of Community Corrections.

Thirty-seven people from Reno County served prison sanctions last fiscal year, and there were 43 so far this year, Regehr said.

“Eight of the 37 we sent to prison requested to serve their time,” Regehr said. “Some had less than six months to serve and felt it was an easier way to get on with their life…. We had nine people successfully complete the program this year who did a prison sanction during their supervision period. “

Of those revoked this year, Regehr said, nine served jail sections and seven prison sanctions before the revocation.

The Kansas Department of Corrections actually determines how much of a sanction an inmate ends up serving, being allowed to grant up to 50 percent “good time” for good behavior.

Of those from Reno County receiving a 120-day sanction in 2015, the average time served was 41 days, according to KDOC Public Information Officer Adam Pfannenstiel. So far this year, the average is up to 46 days. That does not include time waiting in the local jail for transport.

Similarly, the average for Reno County inmates under the 180-day sanction was 69 days last year, and up to 72 days so far this year. Including jail time waiting to go to prison, Regehr said, the average for the 180-day sanction was 110 days last year, and 109 this year.

The courts revoked probation for others who committed new offenses, or if officials deemed them a danger to the community, Regehr said.

Community Corrections occasionally introduces new programs or providers for helping clients, but most of its programs have been around a long time, Regehr said. As important as the programs is continued training for Community Corrections officers.

“We do a lot of training on how to work with people in changing behavior,” Regehr said. “We’re really focused on training officers so they have the skills and tools they need to motivate offenders and help them see how to change. There’s a lot of intervention and interviewing skills training and auditing going on, to help officers do a better job.”

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©2016 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)

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